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Couple Claims Marijuana is Sacrament in their Religion
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Couple Claims Marijuana is Sacrament in their Religion

By , About.com GuideSeptember 2, 2006

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Danuel and Mary Quaintance were arrested for transporting 172 pounds of marijuana in their car. That's more than just a small amount for personal use, but according to them it's all for religious use. A judge is considering their argument and the possibility of dismissing the case on the basis of their right to freely exercise their religion.

Although it sounds like they are just making this up, there is evidently a church where marijuana use is a central focus.

The Quaintances contend they have a right to marijuana as the central focus of the Church of Cognizance, founded by Danuel Quaintance in 1991 and registered as a religious organization in Arizona in 1994. The couple say the church, which has about 130 adherents nationwide, functions largely through “individual orthodox member monasteries.”

Source: AZ Central

They even claim that it has an ancient pedigree, being based on the teachings of Zoroastrianism:

Danuel Quaintance testified the Church of Cognizance is based on his research and interpretation of religious texts and is a form of neo-Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion that holds as sacred a drink made from a mountain plant called haoma. In the teachings of Zoroaster, the plant, the drink and the god are the same. The Quaintances believe cannabis, hemp or marijuana is haoma.

The Quaintances cite as precedent the February Supreme Court decision ruling against government efforts to deny access to a hallucinogenic tea to members of a Brzilian-based church in which this tea plays a central role. If government laws regulating drugs can be lifted for that church, then why not for the Quaintances?

A Zoroastrian priest actually testified against them, saying that contemporary Zoroastrian ceremonies eschew the use of any mind-altering substances and, anyway, no one knows what the haoma really was in ancient times. This may be true, but it’s not very persuasive as an argument against the Quaintances. American law doesn’t permit giving exemptions to only those religions which are old enough or religious practices which are old enough.

Deborah Pruitt, a cultural anthropologist and college professor in Oakland, Calif., testified for the defense that mainstream religions typically view new religious forms as cults or charlatans, but said they are no less genuine.

She distinguished faith-based religions that rely on institutionalized doctrine passed down by specialists from those that rely on direct experience. Christian pentecostals, Wiccans, voodoo practitioners, Sufi dancers and members of the Native American Church all have characteristics of religions that rely on direct experience for contact with deities or spirits, she said.

Pruitt is raising an important point here: there is a lot of prejudice against “new” religious movements, but just because a religious group or movement is new doesn’t make it less valid than older religions. I don’t just mean this from an epistemological perspective (i.e., a new religious group’s claims are no less likely to be true than an older group’s claims), but also from a legal perspective. The law cannot give exemptions and benefits to members of older, established religious groups on the basis of protecting their right to freely exercise their religion but then deny the same exemptions and benefits to members of newer, smaller religious groups.

If the exemptions really are necessary for adherents of older religions to exercise their religion, then denying them to adherents of newer religions is a deliberate attempt to infringe on their free exercise of religion and discriminate against them. On the other hand, if denying exemptions to members of newer religious groups won’t have a significant impact on their ability to practice their religion, then the exemptions aren’t really needed by adherents of older religions. The Constitution — not to mention basic logic and morality — demands nothing less.


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Well, if the courts rule in their favor, I think that religion’s suddenly going to be a lot more popular… >.>

September 2, 2006 at 1:24 pm

Sure thing. This is a good development. I don’t agree that it’s a good reason to get the drug, but such awareness leads to greater and wider incidence, and makes obvious that the religions are just an excuse to get stoned, so eventually more rights will be taken away.

Kind of like the way I love all these churches who are starting to get involved in politics. Perhaps that’ll lead to the taxation of all churches :)

September 14, 2006 at 8:06 am

Cannabis has long been understood and appreciated as a “mind expanding” intoxicant. Inexperienced users found it enhanced the enjoyment of music, food, sex, or just about any other thing users cared to engage in.

Any mind-altering substance can be squandered on insignificant pastimes, like eating snack foods; but it can also be put to higher purposes. ;-) With improvement in cultivars, cannabis users found that their meditation practices— i.e., worship— were also positively improved. Any religionist who already enjoys the substance in other circumstances may very well find it highly suitable to their religious practice as well.

Getting closer to the Indwelling Spirit fragment within the human mind will always be the most personal religious experience we can have, and cannabis can make that experience increasingly more meaningful and personally valuable in the pursuit of that goal.

July 11, 2009 at 8:43 pm
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